It’s just sugar.
Unfortunately, sugar made from corn, especially high fructose corn syrup, suffers from an image problem. And, even more unfortunate, hordes of folks apparently seeking ways to discredit the American agricultural industry seize on misconceptions and misinformation about the make-up, digestibility and overall health effects of corn syrup to push their cause, whatever it is.
The crusade often blames high fructose corn syrup for the epidemic of obesity in this country, discounting the role of common sense, personal responsibility and exercise. The latest such campaign I’ve noticed is a Facebook page—BAN HFCS.
The page includes such claims as:
- High-fructose corn syrup, particularly in soft drinks, is at least partly responsible for America's obesity epidemic.
- It "appears to behave more like fat with respect to the hormones involved in body weight regulation." Peter Havel, associate professor of nutrition at the University of California, Davis
- Consuming a lot of fructose, like consuming too much fat, could contribute to weight gain.
- It doesn't register in the body metabolically the same way that glucose does.
- High-fructose corn syrup is not the same as the corn syrup you buy to make pies. Whereas regular corn syrup is all glucose, HFCS is composed of roughly half glucose and half fructose.
Interesting observations, but these assumptions do not mesh with the facts. The amount of fructose in high fructose corn syrup is about the same as sugar and honey. Two formulations of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS 42 and HFCS 55) include respectively, 42 and 55 percent fructose. That compares with 47 percent fructose in honey and 50 percent in table sugar. Agave nectar, a natural sweetener, contains 75 percent fructose.
And not all medical and nutrition experts agree that corn sweetener behaves differently in the digestive system or has a different effect on human health than any other sweetener. For example:
- “We were wrong in our speculations on high fructose corn syrup about their link to weight.” Barry M. Popkin, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Nutrition, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
- “HFCS is glucose and fructose separated. Table sugar is glucose and fructose stuck together, but quickly separated by digestive enzymes. The body can hardly tell them apart.”Marion Nestle, Ph.D., Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health, New York University.
- "There's no substantial evidence to support the idea that high fructose corn syrup is somehow responsible for obesity. If there was no high fructose corn syrup, I don't think we would see a change in anything important. I think there's this overreaction." Walter Willett, Ph.D., Chairman of the Nutrition Department, Harvard School of Public Health.
- “The bottom line is there isn't a shred of evidence that high-fructose corn syrup is nutritionally any different from sugar.” Michael Jacobson, Ph.D., Executive Director, Center for Science in Public Interest.
- “To pretend that a product sweetened with sugar is healthier than a product sweetened by high-fructose corn syrup is totally misguided.” Michael Jacobson, Ph.D., Executive Director, Center for Science in Public Interest
The problem with offering opinions that disagree with any movement’s established dogma is that folks become too entrenched in their own ideologies to consider another point of view. They preach to their own choir and the best we can do, perhaps, is offer another set of facts, supported by acknowledged experts, to prevent that body from growing too big.
It’s just sugar. And like all parts of our diets, it’s up to us to watch how much of it we consume. That means reading labels and adjusting recipes, meals and snacks accordingly. And it doesn’t hurt to walk a few blocks once in a while either.